Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I've been writing like crazy for the past few weeks. Thankfully, freelance assignments have been streaming in, so hopefully I'll be able to pay some bills, including Joe's tuition, and possibly help with Nicole's rent until she starts bringing in some income with her motivational speaking career.

In between writing, I have been doing a little reading. Our bookclub selection this month was TAPS by Willie Morris. I have read several Willie Morris books, and I've seen the movie My Dog Skip more than once.

Willie is a legend around Mississippi. I never met him, but I know plenty of people who did. He was a mentor to my friend LeaAnne Brandon. She told the story in our bookclub meeting about how he would make her jump through all kinds of hoops, but there was a method to his madness, and because of his guidance, LeaAnne is a wonderful writer today. (She and I will actually be rooming together at the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference at Ole Miss in October. I hope some of what she knows rubs off on me!)

I heard a story by Kitty Cook Ramsey over dinner recently about how Willie told her she had what it took be a writer. He was her professor at Ole Miss. It was a one-on-one class, so they would meet at a local bar and sip on cocktails while Willie read over Kitty's assignments.

All that being said, I was happy that Pulpwood Queen Kathy Patrick suggested we all read TAPS. I was excited about reading the book.

Until I actually started reading it.

Oh my goodness...it made me feel downright stupid! Willie Morris had a great love of the English language, particularly words that no one seemed to know, let alone use in every day conversation! At first it made me mad. I was looking up at least two word on every page. But the more I looked them up, the more I realized that he had chose the perfect word. I came to like the challenge of reading the book, and the education he was treating me to as I looked up each word.

So I was excited to hear that Willie Morris' widow, JoAnne Prichard Morris, (who is now a Facebook friend of mine now, by the way!) would be a special guest at our bookclub, thanks to Kay Rhett. Joanne was Kay's English teacher many years ago at Yazoo City High School.

Of course, being the nosey curious person that I am, I wanted to know how she met Willie, how long they were married, etc. Anyone who knows anything about Willie Morris knows that he was married several times. But his last wife, and the one I believe he truely loved the very most, was Joanne. She told the story of how they met at the school when he came to speak at National Library Week back in the 1960's. At the time, Willie was living in New York, where he was the youngest editor ever for Harper's Magazine. They became friends, and saw each other over the years. They were married about six years before he died (1999).

SIDE NOTE! JoAnne said that while New Orleans may have Mardi Gras, Yazoo City has National Library Week, and it is a HUGE celebration! There are receptions, readings, and all kinds of goings-on all week long. I'm thinking it could just be a road trip! Just so you know...it will be held April 10-16 in 2011!

JoAnne said he told her about TAPS the first time they met. Years later, he wrote the book, and his editor said it needed more sex and conflict. So Willie rewrote it, and according to JoAnne, was very unsatisfied with the book. So, he shelved it. On his deathbed, he told JoAnne to finish TAPS for him. So, for a couple of years, she maticulously edited the book. She told us about how she checked every detail for accuracy, including references to songs on the jukebox to make sure that song was truely out at the time.

The book was finally published in 2001, after JoAnne, working from notations that Morris made on the original manuscript, released it to Houghton Mifflin for publication. There was no doubt Willie cherished his memories of growing up in Mississippi, and he always did a great job of creating the atmosphere her remembered so well. The story takes place in early 1950s Fisk's Landing, Mississippi, and is told through the eyes of Swayze Barksdale, a young high school student who finds his life forever changed by the Korean War.

The beauty of our bookclub is that we have women of all ages, many of whom grew up in that time. They all agreed that the book was true to the era and they enjoyed the memories it brought back to them. Being a late baby'boomer (born in 1957), I have fringe memories of that kind of life.

OK, so back to those WORDS. I had to ask JoAnne about his use of words. She said that Willie was fanatical about choosing the exact word for what he was trying to convey. He loved the thesauraus and constantly dug through it until he found just the right word. However, JoAnne did tell us that Willie didn't have a problem making up words if he couldn't find one that suited him!

TAPS was the last love letter from the South by Willie Morris. It was a story loosely based on real-life experiences (he really did play Taps on his trumpet at the funerals of local men killed in the Korean War). So it was fitting that it was his last novel, which I have to wonder if that was his plan all along? Having JoAnne talk to us about the book, and about Willie, was a real treat. Word has it she wants to join our bookclub! We'd love to have her.

(Final note. I don't guarantee every single fact in this blog is 100 percent accurate...I wasn't taking notes and I was having a glass of wine. And it was a week ago. But for the most part--which I believe my bookclub pals can back me up on--what you just read is true!)

Blessings to all who read this!

(As always, I appreciate your comments. If you feel so inclined, read my other blog,
Every Step of the Way)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Firecrackers and Art Colonies

Whooooo-weeee! I've been giving some words a workout in the ol' word blender! Mixing 'em up and pouring them out on the page to create several articles to fill everyone's heads with knowledge and enlightenment.

You're welcome.

I spent an inordinate amount of time yesterday writing about fireworks displays around town for The Clarion-Ledger. I actually found out about some pretty cool happenings planned for the weekend. One that I've never been to, although I think I should have (since I'm a member of the church) is the St. Richard's Catholic Church fireworks event. It will take place this Sunday immediately following 5:30pm mass. Awesome musician Patrick Harkins is putting together a group of equally awesome musicians to entertain folks. There will be activities for the kids, and plenty of hot dogs, hamburgers, roasted corn, and other typical 4th of July fare. From what I hear, folks set up tents, tables, lawn chairs, blankets and have a grand ol' time. The fireworks will start at dark, of course. This event is open to all--a gift of the church to the community. I know where I'll be this 4th of July!!

Of course, we celebrate Independence Day because it's when the U.S. first declared independence from British rule. The 13 original colonies were the foundation of our country as we now know it. I've been doing some research on a different kind of colony recently.

One of the articles I'm working on is about the Tougaloo Art Colony. It's been going on for 14 years at historic Tougaloo College in Jackson and gets bigger and better each year. The colony will be held July 11-16 this year with incredible guest artists. The cool part is that each day from 1-2:30pm, there will be a brown bag lunch lecture from each of the guest artists, and the public is welcome to attend. On Thursday night, a "hot art showcase" will exhibit work by the guest artists and the participants. Dr. Gerald Walker, part of a musical collaborative called "Waive" will perform, and on Friday, July 15 from 10am to 1pm, the studios will be open for the public to tour and watch the students finish up their pieces. If you are an art lover, you need to make this a must-see event!

Again, you're welcome.

The fun thing about writing local articles is that you find out so much more about what's really going on around you. I am constantly amazed at the fun things that folks are doing right here in my own back yard. Poo on anyone who says there's nothing to do here!

Blessings to all who read this!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

She Smiles for Hours on End...

I've been throwing alot of words in the blender lately...writing business articles on BIG business for the MS Business Journal. I like writing business profiles, particularly on businesses like Ross & Yerger Insurance, which has been in business for 150 years. They are obviously doing something right.

But today's post deals with reading, not writing...and not the kind of reading that makes your brain hurt. Instead it's the kind that makes your heart sing! And author I'm talking about graced us with her presence recently...

She can smile for hours on end. She can wave, too. She can even smile and wave at the same time..."It's harder than it looks!" Those are her talents, and by God, she uses them to entertain and delight all those around her.

Who is this talented woman? None other than Her Royal Highness, Sweet Potato Queen Jill Conner Browne, and she was our guest at the BB Queens Book Club Monday night at Lemuria. There was food galore (I think everyone was showing out a bit...), but Jill has skinnied-up on us, and didn't eat a bite. Wine flowed like a river, but all she drank was water. That's fine...more for us!

We read her book, "American Thighs, The Sweet Potato Queens Guide to Preserving Your Assets" for this month's selection.

(Don't waste your time trying to click and look inside...it won't work here...)

Jill entertained us with lots of fun stories and a complete history on how she became a self-proclaimed Sweet Potato Queen. Of course, the message in all her madness was to incorporate a little fun into our lives. It just makes it all the sweeter.

After a ticket-snafu, Jill gave out a couple of door prizes--her trademark rhinestone-studded sunglasses, and a tiara. We all had a great time, and appreciated her visit. After all, she has eaten with presidents and other VIPS...

It's always good for a writer to meet other writers, particularly when they are successful writers like Jill. Being a member of this book club has afforded me the chance to meet other writers. We met Pat Conroy at the Girlfriend's Weekend in Jefferson, Texas along with several other writers. We've dined with Neil White (In the Sanctuary of Outcasts), and enjoyed the humor of Shellie Tomlinson and River Jordan.

Jill's story also showed how everything you do leads you to the next thing...and you have to be open for it and know that sometimes the plan God has for your life is so much bigger than your own plan.

So, I'll leave you with some fun photos of a fun evening...enjoy!
Blessings to all who read this!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

It's a Small World Afterall!

I threw some words in the blender and just posted my (other) blog, "Every Step of the Way," on MS Digital Daily. You can read it here.

I'll be posting links to articles and blogs I've written here, so come by and flip the switch on the blender any time.

Like what you see? Then PLEASE...register to follow my blog (on the right hand side of the screen). It's fast, easy and so much fun! :-)

Like it so much you want to talk about it? Leave a comment! It makes me feel that I'm not alone, and I love your feedback/comments/suggestions...and yes, even criticism, if it's presented in a I'm-only-telling-you-this-for-your-own-good way.

Speaking of reading and writing...author and humorist Jill.Conner.Browne. will be a special guest at my bookclub tomorrow night!!! She's just a ton of fun and she has graciously agreed to come hang with us, and talk to us about her book, "American Thighs."

I've had the chance to meet so many authors since becoming a member of this club...starting at "Girlfriend's Weekend," (a whole other column, I promise!), when I met Pat Conroy and his daughter, and several other awesome authors. A couple of weeks ago I met Neil White, the author of "In the Sanctuary of Outcasts." He and his wife joined a group of us for dinner at Bravo! and as a future creative non-fiction author, I learned so much from him.

I'll be putting more words in the blender tomorrow...I've got deadlines looming on several articles. Yippeeeee!!! There's nothing like making money while you're wearing your pajamas!

Blessings to all who read this!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mix it up!

I've been wanting to start a blog about writing. My writing. A place where I can post articles I've written, and chronicle the writing journey I'll be starting soon when I begin to write "You Can't Stop This Dancer: The Fall and Rise of Nicole Marquez."

Writing is an interesting process. We all have access to the same words. Some use more of them than others. Some use obscure words to impress or intimidate. Others use words for the masses--words everyone knows and understands so they can get their point across. Some write on and on, and others are more concise.

I started my professional career as a television copywriter. I wrote and produced commercials at an NBC affiliate in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I quickly learned to tell a story in thirty seconds or less. I had to let viewers know how a product or service could fill a need, and then communicate a compelling call to action. Results are important in advertising, or it's money wasted for the client. I became very results-driven.

My next job included writing not only television commercials, but radio spots and print advertising copy for a department store. That was a great learning experience for me as well. I learned that catchy headlines could make or break a print ad, and I learned that radio is theatre of the mind.

I went on to work for an advertising agency, where my repertoire of written copy included press releases, annual reports and brochures. Oh, and billboards. I became a great billboard copywriter. A good billboard contains eight or fewer words. Most people reading them are driving very fast, and they don't have time to read lots of small copy.

One of my favorite billboards is up now on Highway 49, south of Jackson. It's for a product called "Fish Fry," which is a breading product used for fish as well as for fried vegetables. A staple at many Southern tables in the summer is fried okra. The billboard has a big box of the Fish Fry product on the left, and on the right, it reads: As Seen On Okra. Get it? (My friends and I always refer to Oprah as "Okra.")

OK, that's either funny to you, and you totally get it and you'll remember the product. Or you'll read it, scratch your head and drive on...totally unaffected by the billboard ad. Such is writing. Know your target. Remember who you're writing to, and the message you're trying to get across.

From the ad agency, I went to work at WLBT (another NBC affiliate in Jackson) and then to Northpark Mall, where I was the marketing director. In that job, I had to write marketing plans--a whole new kind of writing.

But the best job of all is the one I've had since 2001. I'm a freelance writer now, working out of my home. I write articles for magazines, newspapers, business journals and other publications. The job gives me freedom, yet keeps me busy. Deadlines determine my office hours. I really enjoy what I do, because it's different every day. I write about a variety of subjects, and because of what I do, I talk to the most interesting people, getting details, quotes, but most of all, learning their stories. And believe me, everyone has a story!

Because most of my articles are 600 to 1500 words in length, I don't get very in-depth on any particular subject. I learn a little bit about a lot of things...and that makes me an interesting person to talk to at a cocktail party. When my knowledge of a subject is exhausted (which usually happens pretty quickly), I can just move on!

I'll be posting some of my articles on this blog, and I'd love to get your feedback. Feel free to leave comments or suggestions. But please be kind...if you absolutely hate something I've mixed up in the word blender, send me a private email and tell me why.

So, welcome to my new blog! Thanks for stopping by. Come back now, ya hear?

Blessings to all who read this!